Just because your project manager claims they’ll deliver on time and on budget, doesn’t always mean they will, especially when it comes to IT projects. As you and I both know, IT projects are inherently different than other types of projects.
If you’re less than impressed with your project team’s track record, and wondering how successful IT projects should be led, read on! This crash course gives you insight into how many top-level PMs reach the finish line with IT projects in particular.
The 5 stages of (most) projects
First, let’s step into the mindset of your PM. Generally he/she follows a phased approach which typically consists of five stages:
The beginning of the project wherein roles are established, timelines and budgets are estimated, a project charter is written, and the resources needed to complete the project are planned.
A detailed schedule is defined along with the estimated cost of the project, risks are identified, the formal project plan is written and resources secured.
After a formal kick-off to communicate roles, timelines, budgets, deliverables, resources, and team member responsibilities, the work begins.
4. Monitor & Control
Throughout the project, PMs closely manage the scope, schedule, costs, risks and team to ensure the work gets done.
The finish line! The project ends, its resources are released, and feedback begins.
Putting project plans into motion
When it comes to managing IT projects specifically, project managers tend to favor one of two methods (or a combination of the two). WorkFront provides these summaries:
- Waterfall is considered a more traditional methodology. It employs a sequential, top-down approach to IT project management with the goal of eliminating risk and uncertainty at the start of the project.
- Agile is a relatively new methodology and leaves room for sudden changes when the unexpected occurs. It’s grown in popularity with its change-driven approach that gives IT project teams the dynamic ability to quickly adapt to needed changes and make course corrections.
- Some IT project managers implement a hybrid approach with their teams, using the methodology that makes the most sense for the specific IT project being considered.
As with everything, there are pros and cons to Waterfall and Agile - and plenty of resources online to learn more about each if you’re looking for additional background.
Can you identify the method your PM currently uses? How could switching the approach help to increase your team’s success rate?
11 keys of successful IT projects
Regardless of the trendy methodology name, the real secret to a project team’s success rests in the team’s ability to communicate, remain flexible, and maintain focus. If you’ve noticed trouble on some of the IT projects you’ve worked on in the past, chances are it’s linked to a crack in one of those three pillars of quality project management.
1. Visualize and communicate all project deliverables and activities.
Have a clear vision of what the final outcome looks like, and everything that will contribute to that final object. There is no room for vagueness here. Be exact. Be specific.
2. Be clear about who is responsible for what—and their deadline.
Establish roles, what they’ll contribute to the project and when they’re expected to deliver. Do this as early as possible during the project to limit confusion and increase efficiency.
3. Communicate openly - always!
With multiple voices and opinions tasked to complete the objective, an open communication policy is a must. Equally important is a need for everyone to feel heard. Many projects erode from the inside out because opportunities to voice concerns and opinions are silenced, or presumed invaluable.
4. Rely on short, regular status meetings or calls.
How can you be sure everything is being done as expected if everyone’s off working by themselves in different corners of the office? A daily or weekly status meeting reconnects team members and helps propel the project forward. This isn’t an hours-long meeting. Keep it brief. If need be, limit each member’s status report to 90 seconds.
5. Make room for healthy risk management.
Every project team should have a risk officer; someone who’s loaded with skepticism and capable of detecting potential issues for the project before they’re ever encountered. The team as a whole can contribute to mitigating risk by communicating any concerns or challenges immediately. With so much on the line, there’s no room for holding back when potentially disastrous issues are known.
6. Agility is key.
You’re in IT, so you know how quickly and often change occurs. Some experts view more traditional PM methodologies as being too rigid - especially for IT projects. Assembling an agile, responsive team to address challenges in the moment leads to greater success.
7. Make planning an ongoing thing.
Some teams feel the first draft of a plan is thorough enough and set it in stone. But we all know even the best plans require change when the variables of the world are introduced. You can’t plan for everything, but you can always adjust. Remember this motto: Plan, re-plan, plan - life will be easier for everyone.
8. Micromanagement kills projects.
We don’t know your PM personally, but if he or she is a micromanager, you’re probably feeling frustrated right about now. The best PMs are concerned with achieving milestones - not losing sight of a project’s goals by concentrating too much on the subatomic details. The details are what you should worry about. That’s why you’re on the team!
9. Work with a sense of urgency.
Time is a limited commodity in project management. As are money and resources. Understand and accept this. The clock is ticking from the moment a project begins. Working with urgency and importance every step of the way fuels a project’s momentum.
10. Complete deliverables step-by-step.
The very essence of project management centers around a divide and conquer mentality. Your contribution to the project, regardless of size, will be less intimidating (and more easily accomplished) if you work through it in a linear, systematic manner. Superman can leap tall buildings in a single bound. The rest of us mortal types have to take the elevator up floor by floor.
11. Time, budget and quality matter - always!
Even though they’re the primary concern of the PM, your team will benefit if everyone involved buys into the importance of your project’s time, budget and quality. Sharing ownership of the big three strengthens a team, and helps it collectively stay focused on reaching the finish line successfully.